It’s always obvious – quality jewelry versus low-quality pieces. Unfortunately, and especially to the untrained eye, poor quality doesn’t always show up right away. Sometimes, it appears as a green ring left by plated metal, while at other times, it rears its ugly head through faded, discolored, or loose gemstones. In either case, the piece you’re left with in no way resembles the one you first purchased.
Profit maximization with “calculated risk”
One problem is when maximum profit and calculated risk drive quality. As the international jewelry market has pushed toward foreign manufacturers and suppliers to lower costs, quality has suffered as a result. This goes beyond China and Hong Kong, of course, but looking at how many components are foreign-made is an important consideration when investing in something as timeless as jewelry.
From the foreign manufacturer and supplier’s side, once the goods have been purchased and shipped, their part of the deal is done. The transaction is over, and they know that if the buyer wants to return anything, it will be a logistical nightmare, take considerable time, and require customs to be involved. Thus, the perfect formula (for the foreign supplier) is ship out as low quality a product as possible, so the buyer will be most likely to accept it versus going through the hassle of sending it back.
One example of quality that often gets lost in this process is related to gold or rhodium plating. The cost of both of these metals is extreme and reduced quality is difficult to detect in the initial months after a purchase. For example, while the buyer asked of 1 μm of rhodium plating, the jewelry sent might only have 0.5 μm. The manufacturer knows that a) it’s hard to notice the difference, especially in the short-term; and b) if the buyer complains, the factory can argue that such things are hard to control.
Gemstones can also have cost savings for unethical sellers. Artificial Man-Made gemstones are difficult to detect by the untrained eye and save a great deal of cost in the manufacturing process. An overseas manufacture can reduce the cost of gemstone by supplying a Man-Made gemstone over a real gemstone, and even more money can be saved by supplying a look alike gemstone. Natural Gemstones or Even Man-Made Gemstones are much harder and wear resistant than look-alikes. Natural gemstones demand a premium price over Man-Made.
Even more insidious is solid metals versus plating. A solid Gold or Silver piece of jewelry will often last a lifetime, while plated jewelry may show the underling low cost metal as wear appears. It is very difficult to determine whether a jewelry piece is solid metal or plated metal on first observation or without scaring the surface, and overseas manufacturers may be long gone before the quality appears. The cost of metal makes cutting corners on Gold and Silver a very profitable method for unethical suppliers.
“Industry expertise” is not standard between countries
For many manufacturers focused on quantity over quality, the concept of industry expertise also goes out the window. This leads to overpricing, inadequate customer service – and on the end- customer’s side, gold plating problems such as plating peeling, wearing out, leaving a green effect, rust, and more; and this can be very disconcerting especially if you have purchased a solid gold piece.
Buy North American/return North American
Since the nightmare logistics involved in returning purchases from overseas jewelry manufacturers are so intimidating, the easiest way to avoid this is for jewelry buyers to only work with North American suppliers. This cuts out any involvement customs would otherwise have and shipping costs are cheaper. When raw materials are sourced exclusively from North American suppliers, you can expect higher quality. This is because the concept of “calculated” risk” becomes much higher on the supplier’s side when they know that it would be easier for a buyer to return the jewelry based on poor quality or inadequate specifications; furthermore the reputation risk is very high should a local supplier not deliver as stated. There is also a common industry standard that is embraced between supplier and buyer, easing any complications that would otherwise occur if it were not shared norms and best practices.